Measure for Measure

Topics: Sexual intercourse, Human sexuality, Human sexual behavior Pages: 7 (2832 words) Published: December 30, 2012
Scene one and TwoThe major characters and situations are laid out. The plot revolves around the new leader's treatment of sexual offenses, particularly fornication, which is considered a sin. The characters also fit into groups depending on their opinions about sexual behavior. Claudio is the middle-of-the-road thinker, not involved in prostitution and possessing only noble beliefs about his relationship with Juliet, but unable to prevent himself from desiring her sexually and therefore culpable. His sister Isabella presents one extreme, abstaining from sexual activity entirely in order to become a nun. Mistress Overdone is at the other end of the spectrum, managing the prostitution business in Vienna. The only mobile character on the spectrum is Angelo, who is here presented as a strict but virtuous leader who is given free reign in the Duke's absence. Angelo begins to enforce laws that have been dormant for some time. He hopes to clean up the city, shutting down brothels and requiring abstinence before marriage. This will make illegitimate births a thing of the past and protect the city's women, so it is not harmful in itself. He oversteps the framework of justice, however, when he sentences Claudio to death for having sexual intercourse with his lover before marriage. This is, of course, a very strict punishment considering the crime, and Angelo appears as an unwavering, unmerciful leader at this point. The general atmosphere in Vienna seems to be one of merriment and disregard for the law. Claudio is to serve as an example in order to change this. It is perhaps this environment which prompts Isabella to join the nunnery, since she does not approve of fornication or prostitution and wants to be close to God and safe from male attention. The major conflict of the play already emerges at this point; it lies between Isabella and the other characters, religion and hedonism. The Duke and Isabella are both described in more detail. They are both shown to be good-intentioned, sometimes confused characters who seek to improve the situation around them. The Duke wants to bring more law and order to Vienna but does not know how to do it himself, so he has allowed Angelo to take his place. However, he does not wish Angelo to have free reign, knowing him to be very strict and possibly heartless, so he asks Friar Thomas to disguise him so that he might roam the city in secret. Isabella, similarly, seeks to retire from daily affairs. She joins a convent, thinking that she will find a safe, religious, pure environment in which she can worship. Her introduction to the life of a nun is interrupted by a plea from Lucio, and this is the first moment at which she must consider her choice. She is asked to leave the nunnery physically at this point; later she will be asked to give up her vow of chastity, and eventually she will be asked to marry instead of returning to the nunnery. Her physical departure is all the more important because she is asked to plead, on her brother's behalf, for forgiveness of what she and her religion consider to be a sin: fornication. At this point, she acts on familial loyalty rather than religious devotion, saying that she thinks the punishment for her brother's crime is warranted but too severe. This first introduction to Isabella's beliefs about sexual behavior is particularly important. She will be asked to make major decisions and question her beliefs about acceptability and propriety, and her brother's life hangs in the balance. At this point, we see only that Isabella is innocent, chaste, and devoted to her religion. She is looking for protection from the sins of the common people of Vienna; Lucio brings her away from this safe haven into a situation in which she is vulnerable to the sins of others. This scene exists primarily for comic relief, distracting the audience momentarily from the issues at stake, particularly Claudio's imminent execution. Escalus is a noble character who acts as a straight-man to...
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